Washington, July 8 – Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont believes there is a need for a full employment plan for everybody, including those with disabilities, but has not yet laid out a plan about how to increase competitive integrated employment for people with disabilities in America.
Taking questions after a speech about rebooting the policy agenda to reclaim the American Dream, the Democratic presidential candidate emphasized the importance of being able to work but did not offer any suggestions for how he would help the disability community.
“Work is part of what being human is about,” Sanders said to RespectAbility Fellow James Trout in Virginia. “Whether you have a disability or you don’t, the horrors of unemployment really, and I was there once, not having a job, not being part of the community, being isolated, feeling worthless, strikes me. So we have to establish a full employment program for all people, with disabilities and without disabilities.”
Fully one-in-five Americans have a disability and polls show that most of them want to work. Yet 70 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities are outside of the workforce. This leads to poverty and costs taxpayers billions of dollars in disability benefits.
When previously asked the same question, he promised to work on the issue.
“I have worked with the disability community in my own state,” Sanders said at a town hall in Davenport, Iowa on May 28, 2015. “People with disabilities must have all of the opportunities possible open to them from an educational point of view and from an employment point of view. So I promise you we will work on that issue.”
There are 357,730 Iowans with disabilities. Of that number, 169,300 Iowans with disabilities are of working age. Among this population there is a huge gap in terms of employment compared to their non-disabled peers. Only 44.8 percent are employed compared to 82.1 percent of those without disabilities living and working in the first primary state.
Introducing policies that create opportunities for employing people with disabilities is not a conservative issue or liberal issue; it is a human issue, and it affects a large portion of the electorate in the United States. The top issue in the disability community is jobs. Government policies that help people with disabilities get and keep jobs are a win-win because they allow people with disabilities the dignity and financial benefits of work and also grow our economy and save taxpayer money.
Sanders also used this opportunity to attack his Republican colleagues on Social Security. “The immediate concern that we have is what our Republican colleagues are doing playing games with the Social Security system. Historically what’s happened is when either the retirement part of social security or the disability part ran out of money, it was no big deal. They were able to switch money from one fund to the other. They are threatening not to do that, which would be a, if I recall, a 19 percent cut. I don’t know how people are going to survive on a 19 percent cut. So we’re going to do our best to defeat that proposal.”